American journalism stands at what it believes is a crossroads. And the media are finding it’s tough trying to walk down two roads at the same time.
Journalists want two things that seems to be at odds with each other: They want to be fair and interesting.
Writing a fun story that has no connection with the facts is out of the question. But so is writing a true story that is so dull that only a bureaucrat would read it.
The problem comes from faulty definitions. Journalists usually believe that fair means scientifically objective. We believe we can stand aloof from the truth, measure it with precision calipers and dispense it with the meticulousness of a pharmacist. This is why my journalism degree from West Virginia University is a bachelor of science degree, not a bachelor of arts.
But telling a story with objective test tubes and Bunsen burners is boring. So journalism is also trying to tell personal stories. The problem is, these end up feeling like advocacy or truth bending.
A recent poll found that many Americans use late-night monologues as a primary means of receiving news. This understandably alarms journalists, many who are really trying to straddle the fence between fair and interesting.
But consider a rosier conclusion. People do not mind getting news from a “biased” source as long as they have an idea what the bias is. I know where Dennis Miller, Glenn Beck, Paul Harvey and NPR are coming from. So as I listen to them, I just wear the appropriate baloney filter and drink it up.
This would be wonderfully freeing news for the national media, except for one point: They have believed the myth of scientific journalism for so long, their ranks are full of skeptics who keep all truth at an arm’s-length away. This is why they are horribly out of step with middle America. This is also why middle America doesn’t trust them: They don’t trust anyone who claims a mantle of pure scientific objectivity. Readers and viewers just aren’t that stupid.
But for members of local media, this calls for more transparency and more honesty in what we believe.
We all come at news from a particular angle. This is not bad, this is just human. Telling people where we’re coming from may be scary at first. but readers who are human enough to know that no one can keep their beliefs and their actions sealed in separate Tupperware containers will appreciate and eventually embrace the honesty.
Will it happen? I don’t know. This is an incredibly Trinitarian view of journalism. We Christians believe there is no such thing as truths dangling by themselves in midair. All truth is wrapped up and bound in the Person of Jesus Christ.
So admitting our beliefs would be the Christian thing to do. But it also would help journalists become more trusted and more believed. More people would listen and read. More people would write back when a journalist does well or does poorly. It would save journalism from being the mediocre and irrelevant entity it is today.